Diana Cutter (left), Dearborn County, and Stacey Webster, Lawrenceburg, relax on the outdoor patio. They are at the facility after recently being incarcerated. Cutter’s goal? “Save money.” Staff photo by Debbie Blank

Diana Cutter (left), Dearborn County, and Stacey Webster, Lawrenceburg, relax on the outdoor patio. They are at the facility after recently being incarcerated. Cutter’s goal? “Save money.” Staff photo by Debbie Blank

AURORA — “I don’t believe anybody wants to be homeless,” observes Craig Beckley, the executive director of Heart House, Aurora, which serves persons from Dearborn, Franklin, Ripley, Ohio and Switzerland counties.

“Sometimes you need somebody to either hold your hand or give you a kick in the pants.”

The homeless are living all around us. Beckley says, “You cannot because of physical characteristics tell homeless people in rural areas .... There are people ... who have a minivan and two children who live in cornfields or down some country lane. During the day they come out and live in our communities. Some have work. Others have other forms of income.”

All ages can become homeless. “We’ve had 15 babies born here. We’ve had people here in their 70s and 80s.” The predominant ages are between 20-40. “We don’t take unaccompanied minors,” so the minimum age of a person who shows up alone is 18.

The number of people who are aided by Heart House has remained constant, 300-350 a year. But the opioid crisis “has increased the severity of problems in a lot of people.”

Every client has a different story about his or her path to the shelter. Former Greensburg resident Ronnie Jones has been a resident three times. After he and his wife had a son who died of SIDS, she no longer wanted to stay at the house. Jones “had an emotional breakdown and was sent to the hospital and ended up in jail,” he explained July 12. Despite counseling and medication, a year later, on the anniversary of the baby’s death, Jones had another downward spiral. “My goal is to get into what I’ve been avoiding like a plague, grief counseling.” Meanwhile, his wife and two daughters are living with her parents in Arizona.

Former Heart House resident Marie Byrd, Aurora, has been the facility’s administrative assistant and bookkeeper for six years and also is property manager of its lowincome Aurora

apartments. “I had a pretty good job at Belterra Casino and I had a roommate. We had become at odds. My job position was dissolved. I went to work one day (and was told) ‘Tonight’s your last night.’ Things got very bad very quick. I decided to leave and come here.”

Heart House can take in a maximum of 15 men and 17 women. There also are six family rooms that each will hold a family of six.

Each must get a police check to screen out child molesters and others with sexually violent histories. the father of three children reports, “We have a lot of individuals here who are on parole. We have right now eight or 10 people who have ankle bracelets on, so we’re very careful about what their charges were.”

“We tell them, ‘You need to go find income.’ The way we accomplish that, we have a very simple requirement: 10 applications a day .... I want to know who you turned it into and a phone number so I can check on it. I have individuals that come out of prison ... with felonies ... Within 48 hours they’re employed.”

Drugs and alcohol are not allowed. If drugs are found, police are called. If a client fails a drug test, “you have to tell me where you got it or you pack your things.” He also checks their belongings and vehicles for illegal substances. “If they have a prescription drug that they do not give us when they come in, they’re immediately evicted. I won’t put up with that. Everybody knows that. We have zero tolerance.”

Beckley advises residents, “Obey the rules and don’t ever lie to me. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me the truth. Sometimes that’s painful.”

He reports the goal of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is to have a client in and out of a shelter within 20 days. “You can’t fix the problem that quickly.” The person must find a job and save money for an apartment deposit and first month’s rent. At the facility, residents get job counseling and skills assessments and take Purdue University classes on money management and budgeting, parenting and nutrition.

The average length of stay is two to four months.“You give me a 45-year-old man or woman who’s never been able to keep more than $5 in their pockets, made terrible decisions about relationships” and now has been kicked out of a home and the director is up for the challenge.

“What many people don’t understand, even if you’re on disability, you’re allowed to work up to 20 hours a week.” Typical disability checks range from $600-$700. “How do you live on that? You augment that” is his advice. Case manager Jennifer Jones, Dillsboro, works with the disabled.

Over time, “they have a new way of living their lives that is a successful way. We try to give them the individual tools that keep them going and allow them to be successful out on their own.”

“We’re homelessproofing them!”

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